Sharing Memories

These are clips from a video that ran for years in the Bloomington Riley pediatrics outpatient office waiting rooms. These segments feature Dr. Wrasse reading from the “B is for Bloomington” book. Dr. Wrasse was an avid reader and loved reading to his own children.

Remembrance from a patient’s mom:

I don’t know quite where to start, but I will do my best to share with you the powerful and life-changing impact Dr. Wrasse had on me and my family.

A decade ago I took custody of my young school age niece and grade school nephew whose parents were deep into addiction. Overnight, they started living with my husband and I.  We had little to nothing (clothing, etc.) that came with them.  We needed to get them a pediatrician so I called and found out Dr. Wrasse had openings. We scheduled my nephew to come in because he was having some acute symptoms of a virus. 

My nephew was so scared and preschool boys just have their own way of trying to hide it. One of his ways of coping was to bark, not talk. When we arrived, Dr. Wrasse was so engaging. He had the best bedside manner of any doctor. He said hi to my nephew and asked a couple questions. I hadn’t been able to fully explain the situation he had just come from, but Dr. Wrasse quickly realized my nephew was scared and barking. I wasn’t a mom yet of my own kids (biological, adoption, etc.) so I wasn’t sure what to do and was scared myself. Dr. Wrasse didn’t skip a beat. He BARKED BACK!!  I burst into tears when he and my nephew barked back and forth and were COMMUNICATING. My nephew would answer questions and Dr. Wrasse understood it. I was witnessing one of the most magical things. Dr. Wrasse had a gift unlike any other. His ability to engage, communicate and tune in to the needs of his patients was astounding. 

We kept going to Dr. Wrasse through the years.  So, a few years later, when I was having my first biological son, of course I wanted Dr. Wrasse. He came to see us at the hospital after labor and delivery.  Dr. Wrasse saw my son when he was 12 hours old.  He told me directly there was something special about him and he had more muscle tone than most kids. He made eye contact and could hold up his head on his own. Dr. Wrasse was so intrigued and excited. With every extremely early milestone my son hit, Dr. Wrasse would cheer him on and laugh that “of course” he was walking before one, talking before one, etc.  He saw my first son and then my youngest son grow and develop at every appointment.

In his grade school years my first son was having some headaches with excessive thirst. I thought he might be diabetic. So, I scheduled to take him in. Dr. Wrasse did his usual exam, he listened to me, and he did bloodwork, all while we were there.  He came back in the room a bit perplexed and told me all the tests and his insulin levels, etc. were normal. I could tell he was thinking deeply. He looked at me (knowing I needed answers but was relieved he wasn’t diabetic) and said, we need to investigate this further. Knowing what I know now-I realize he probably had a feeling what was wrong but was professional not to worry me but also to be urgent with his actions. He told me my eldest needed an MRI of his head at Riley.  We need to rule things in or out and keep digging until we know.  It felt like the right step, and I trusted him.  We were scheduled within a week or two on a Tuesday.

That evening I was headed to get tacos with a friend. Something I remember because we never made it there. Dr. Wrasse called me at 6:30pm. I was shocked to see him calling. I pulled over the car and answered. He was so great. He had to deliver some of the worst information any parent can hear: Your son has a brain tumor in the center of his brain. The tumor was already wrapped around his pituitary gland and compressing his optic chiasm. Dr. Wrasse’s words stay with me because I froze, and that moment stays with me forever.  The information was so hard to hear. But after all the details Dr. Wrasse told me there is treatment for this type of tumor. I needed that raw truth and detail followed by some hope. It was so genuine. It is the person he was.

The quick actions of Dr. Wrasse saved my son’s life. If he hesitated and “watched” the symptoms, even for another month, my son would not be okay.  He would be fully blind at minimum and had far worse permanent damage than he does now. 

I remember how Dr. Wrasse would talk about his family. He would light up the room with pride about his girls.  Just being his patient and experiencing the blessings he brought us, I cannot possibly fathom the father and husband he was.  We talk about Dr. Wrasse often. We thank God we had him to help with my traumatized nephew, which also lead to him saving my son. 

Reflection by Dr. Eric Knabel, DO:

I remember when I moved back to Bloomington, I was tasked with finding a pediatrician for our two young children. Not knowing the local community, I asked the practice manager for advice. Her response to me was, “You should take them to see John Wrasse. Your personalities would mesh well.” John was subtle in his humor, like a British comedy, and he embraced life with a reckless abandon. He was a colleague and, over time, became a friend. A man who came to medicine later in life, he practiced like he had been born to do it. As with most professions, you are drawn to people who make excellence look effortless. Kids loved him, but parents loved him even more. He projected compassion, and he imparted wisdom in ways his patients understood, literally. During well child visits, he talked to his patient – the child. Fairly often, John didn’t speak to a parent until he was done talking with the kid, a medical unicorn whose very pores oozed medicine. John’s kindness made it impossible for him to say no, and he was often overwhelmed when I saw him. Most souls like his are, but they never speak of their burdens.

John’s greatest escape was the bike (the kind you pedal). In warmer weather, he would bike the 9 miles to his office and back every day. He and I would always discuss riding together, and our schedules never synced up to go riding but a time or two. I remember driving to his house one Saturday morning for a ride, and despite having to do hospital rounds earlier that morning, he looked invigorated by the idea of going for a ride. “How far we going today?” he asked me. I suggested twenty miles, and without a moment’s hesitation replied, “I know the way. Let’s go.” He was not the kind of cyclist that rode to show you how much better he was than you; he wanted you to enjoy the experience like he enjoyed it. We chatted about many things during that ride, and the things that stand out to me now are the things of which he was most proud – how he loved taking care of his patients, but even more, how much he loved his wife and his two daughters. They were the joy of his life, and it made the stress of his work worth it.

I’ll never forget the day I got a call from one of his colleagues last year, telling me that John had collapsed while riding his stationary bike the night before, never to regain consciousness. A feeling of numbness crept over me, denial coursing through my veins. Don’t they know he bikes to work every day? I asked myself, unwilling to accept that there would be no more rides. My friend was gone, my kids’ doc was gone, and there was nothing I could do about it but cry. I’m thankful that there’s a movement to endow a medical scholarship in his honor, and we celebrate his legacy each August with a bike event around the time of his birthday. I ride with his Peloton username on my crossbar, and I feel the same sense of calm and enjoyment that I had when we rode together. He would have been so proud of the event, and I owe it to him to carry on. I pray that I may be half as devoted to my patients and family as he was to his. I miss you, John.

Memories from childhood friend Todd Long:

Two great things happened to me during the summer 1977: Star Wars and John Wrasse.  Luke Skywalker battled the evil empire and John Wrasse had enough fireworks during the Fourth of July to defend the neighborhood against any enemy – foreign, domestic, or extraterrestrial.  

John claimed that we met on the Fourth of July.  My parents moved us to a new neighborhood during the summer of ’77.  Located on the edge of Lincoln, Nebraska, the new location was full of kids.  Three of those kids were from the Wrasse family.  I met John, the oldest of the three, shortly after we moved in, and we became fast friends.  

What I learned later that summer – and the next 40+ years – was that John was fan of all things fun.  We were always on an adventure.  Hiking, cycling, camping, building, road tripping, whatever; if it was fun John was up for it.  

Inseparable, we continued our escapades through grade school, junior high, high school, and college.  After college, John moved but we remained in close contact and when we would jump on a call or meet up in person, we could talk about nothing and everything effortlessly. 

This was one of John’s great gifts, the ability to engage people on any number of subjects and make them feel valued.  He may have offered a counterpoint (he was a natural debater,) but he would never denigrate your contribution.  

After John married Lisa and grew their family with daughters Anna and Lucy, I was happy to see Lisa and the girls embraced John’s sense of adventure.  Through photos and stories it was easy to see all the family fun. 

John was always generous (perhaps too generous). With work, family, and friends, he gave everything his all.  It was never lost on me how lucky I was to have such an amazing friend.  My hope is that everyone who was lucky enough to meet John will in some small way carry his generosity and love of fun forward.